Irish-American Witchcraft: My American Imbolc

Imbolc  is a pretty big holiday for my family and one of the most involved. It’s also my oldest daughter’s favorite, not only because she has a special devotion to Bríd, but because it’s the holiday that gives her the biggest role to play.

an equal-armed cross and wreath
Courtesy of M. Daimler

We celebrate Imbolc on February 1st every year, which in my area is right around the same time the sheep are lambing. The town I live in still has sheep farms in it, although not as many as there used to be and I like knowing that as we celebrate Imbolc we are doing so more or less in line with the rhythms of nature that the holiday has always followed. I do realize this isn’t true for people who live in other areas that are not as agriculturally aligned to Ireland and the United Kingdom, nor is mine identical in climate, but it is close enough that we do generally have lambs at Imbolc, blooming Hawthorn around Bealtaine¹, the harvest starting to come in at Lughnasa, and the first hard, killing frost around Samhain.

Dryad Design triple Brighid statue painted by M. Daimler
Dryad Design triple Brighid statue painted by M. Daimler

At Imbolc we especially honor Brighid the poetess because she is the main goddess named Brighid that is acknowledged in my household. However, we do also make an offering and acknowledge both Brighid the healer and Brighid the smith on Imbolc as well. The statue I have for the Brighids on my altar is the excellent depiction of the three sisters done by Dryad Design, so all three are represented. As I describe our actual I’ll simply say Brighid for Brighid the Poet, but will clarify when I mean either of the others.

Our Imbolc begins the night before at sunset. We weave new Brighid’s crosses, an activity the kids enjoy, and when that is done my oldest goes outside carrying the Brideog, a small doll representing the goddess. She knocks on the door three times and we open it, at which point she announces that Brighid has arrived. We welcome the Goddess in and bring her to a small bed that has been prepared for her on the hearth. My daughter places the doll in the little bed and next to her we put a small willow wand, the slat Brighid, and then we sing a short song to welcome her to our home and ask for her blessing for the year to come. The children each offer some bread that they have buttered tone to each Brighid and I offer milk. Then I will usually tell them stories of Brighid. Afterwards the offerings are left outside, one piece of buttered bread for each Brighid, and the milk poured out to all of them. Later in the evening I put my brat Brighid, a cloth used for healing, in a window to be blessed by Brighid the healer over night.

In my own practice I have  separate ritual I do that night when the children are sleeping, that includes a focus on cleansing and renewal. I also honor the Liminal Gods of the dark half of the year and the spirits of the Otherworld who are active at this time. I don’t include the children in this one mostly because the two youngest are simply too young at this point, although perhaps this year or the next I’ll see if my oldest is interested.

Our family Brideog in her bed with her slat Brighid / M. Daimler
Our family Brideog in her bed with her slat Brighid / M. Daimler

In the morning we check the ashes of the hearth for signs of Brighid’s presence – either the mark of her wand or her foot. If there is no sign then extra offerings have to be made to regain her favor. Otherwise we celebrate the rest of the day in different ways depending on the weather², maybe visiting the new lambs at one of the local farms, or making artwork together, or music. We end the holiday with a dinner of mutton (usually a stew) part of which is also offered, this final time with a portion going to the three Brighids, some to the Daoine Maithe (Good People), and some to the ancestors.

And that is how my family celebrates Imbolc every year. Its always a bit messy and a lot of fun. Throughout the year we honor the three Brighid in many ways but this holiday above all for us is a time to renew our connection to them and to thank them for their blessings in our lives.

1. the last several years the winters have been especially hard and lingering and the Hawthorn has been late, but that is unusual. (back)

2. there are lots of weather omens around Imbolc, by the way, such as the one that says that a windy Imbolc means a snowy March. (back)

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